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NCAA Tournament 2018: Josh Perkins has figured it all out at the right time

The Gonzaga point guard is holding down court exactly when the Zags need him.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Ohio State vs Gonzaga Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions marks heading into this season was how Gonzaga junior guard Josh Perkins would handle being the primary ball-handler once again.

Perkins, of course, lost his freshman season to a brutally stupid foul by Georgia’s Kenny Gaines, who kicked Perkins in the face and broke his jaw. Rather than watch and learn under the senior leadership of Kevin Pangos, Perkins was relegated to a full year of recovery consisting of milkshakes through a wired jaw.

Understandably, his freshman year was a bit up and down. Last season, he grew into his new role off the ball, complimenting Nigel Williams-Goss perfectly. Although he still handled the ball a good deal, the offense ran through NWG. When NWG declared for the draft last season, it understandably had a few people rattled.

Now, after three seasons of his often inconsistent play (or consistently head scratching), Perkins has cemented his importance in the rotation exactly how he, and the Bulldogs, need. He is playing some of the best basketball of his Gonzaga career right now, and everyone should be paying attention.

Although Norvell got all the glory in the first round matchup against UNCG, it was Perkins’ 16 points that helped the Gonzaga offense limp along, none more important than this big time shot to tie the game.

Against Ohio State, it was a different point guard that emerged. Perkins largely deferred his outside shot to Zach Norvell, only attempting three threes in the game. He finished with only 10 points, but most importantly, he finished with eight assists on just two turnovers.

That assist to turnover ratio has steadily improved as the season has gone on. On the year, Perkins is averaging 5.3 assists and 2.1 turnovers per game—great numbers for a starting point guard.

However, since Gonzaga’s last loss against Saint Mary’s, Perkins has averaged five assists to just 1.5 turnovers per game. In the 20 games prior to the current win streak, Perk has averaged 5.6 assists per game, but 2.5 turnovers per game.

The Zags have needed that floor leadership, because through two games in the NCAA Tournament, the Zags are two very close looks at an early exit. Each time, Perkins has silenced the constant doubters with strong and improved play. Considering the fact that he is the primary, and basically only, ball handler receiving minutes at the moment, and Perkins run of play is that much more impressive.

There probably hasn’t been a player that the fan base has struggled to accept in a general fashion like Perkins. His inconsistent play didn’t do him any favors, but it was always an uphill climb for his acceptance as a Gonzaga player. Many in the fan base gave him zero room, ignoring the fact that he was a freshman point guard shoved onto a team with no other point guards, and placing expectations on him that he already play at an elite, senior like level, not affording the opportunity to grow into it.

Like a lot of college basketball players, Perkins needed the leash and the room to grow. He had to live and learn through his mistakes, just like all of us do in life. Often times, he was doing that right before our very eyes, but a good chunk of the fan base was too busy griping about the turnover rather than listening to him learn from it.

None of that matters now. What matters is that Perkins is playing his best basketball of the season at the time Gonzaga needs it most. He has now helped lead the Zags to a Sweet 16 in each of his three postseasons—no small feat by any measure.

The Zags have played with a contagious energy and effort this NCAA Tournament. From heroic shots by Zach Norvell and thunderous dunks to Rui Hachimura, everyone is taking part in the grittier aspects of basketball. The hard fouls and the bodies diving for loose balls, even when your own team’s analytics guru is in the way.

Perkins is carving out his own unique space in Gonzaga history, and he has one of the best chances to make those pages even larger and more grand. The West Region of the NCAA Tournament is in sheer ruin. Florida State won’t be an easy out of course, and any team that makes the Elite 8 is a good team, regardless of circumstance. But Perkins has helped take a championship level team that was supposed to have a slight “down year” and continue to take it to new heights.